Claude Monet and his “Waterlilies,” Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette,” Paul Cezanne and his post impressionist work “The Bathers,” and Edgar Degas and his ballerinas are all giants of French art whose contributions to western culture have been felt for more than a hundred years. But not all great French artists are remembered by the world so well, in spite their major impact on western culture. The names of these ground-breaking masters are lost to time and their works don’t hang in a museum, but in the dark corners of our past in the caves of the France.
I can imagine how hard it must have been like for those early artists, stepping into the dark with only a flame to light the way, with only pigment rendered with their own hands creating great murals of the world around them.
I did a little research and was surprised at the difficulty of finding companies that specialize in these cave-hopping tours. I imagine, as with most tours, you get what you pay for.
The Archaeological Institute of America offers a 13-day Prehistoric Cave Art of Spain and France tour lead by Dr. Paul G. Bahn. He’s a Cambridge-educated historian and a published expert on the cave paintings and prehistory and as your the tour leader he’ll guide you from Bilbao, Spain to Toulouse, France while filling your mind with the educational experience of a lifetime.
The Smithsonian offers Smithsonian Journeys Traditions of Southwestern France: Sojourn in the Dordonge. While it doesn’t exclusively focus on the prehistory of man, it does touch on the topic as part of a larger look at the history of the Dordonge River Valley. The focus on the cave paintings at Lazcaux II and Rouffignac as well as the location of the discovery of fossils Cro-Magnon Man dating back 35,000 years are shared as part of the amazing history of a region dotted with medieval fortresses and small villages.
I’m sure you could find your way through the valleys of France, seeking out the caves and hotels on your own. I do know it can be done. But I’ve found that when you’re dealing with such a niche as cave paintings, finding an expert helps even if you’re just looking for advice, not a complete tour. You can also use the more formal itineraries as inspiration to develop your own plan — with a more conservative budget in mind.